Electric Fields May Speed Wound Healing For Diabetics

People with diabetes often suffer from wounds that are slow to heal. New research finds that slow healing is associated with weaker electrical currents in wounds.

Min Zhao, professor of ophthalmology and of dermatology at the University of California, Davis, says:

“This is the first demonstration, in diabetic wounds or any chronic wounds, that the naturally occurring electrical signal is impaired and correlated with delayed healing. Correcting this defect offers a totally new approach for chronic and nonhealing wounds in diabetes.”

Previous work by Zhao and Brian Reid, project scientist at the UC Davis dermatology department, showed that electric fields are associated with healing damage to the cornea, the transparent outer layer of the eye.

Electric Currents And Wound Healing

In this new study the team used a highly sensitive probe to measure electrical fields in the corneas of isolated eyes from three different lab mouse models with different types of diabetes: genetic, drug-induced, and in mice fed a high-fat diet.

In a healthy eye, there is an electrical potential across the thickness of the cornea.

Removing a small piece of cornea collapses this potential and creates electric currents, especially at the edges of the wound. Cells migrate along the electric currents, closing the scratch wound in about 48 hours.

The researchers found that these electric currents were much weaker in eyes from all three strains of diabetic mice than in healthy mice. Delayed wound healing was correlated with weaker electric currents.

“We saw similar results with all three models,” Reid says.

The researchers also found that human corneal cells exposed to high levels of glucose showed less response to an electric field. Diabetics have high levels of glucose in their tears, Reid notes.

The National Institutes of Health and Research to Prevent Blindness Inc. supported the project.

Yunyun Shen, Trisha Pfluger, Fernando Ferreira, Jiebing Liang, Manuel F. Navedo, Qunli Zeng, Brian Reid & Min Zhao
Diabetic cornea wounds produce significantly weaker electric signals that may contribute to impaired healing
Scientific Reports 6, Article number: 26525 (2016) doi:10.1038/srep26525